By Jack Kelley
Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. (Matt 24:12-13)
In the debate over the timing of the Rapture, one point is often overlooked. And that is that the terms and conditions of salvation during the Great Tribulation are vastly different from those during the Church Age, and therefore couldn't be meant for the same group. In both cases salvation is by faith alone, but that's where the similarity ends. This presents another argument for Church Age believers being taken before the Great Tribulation begins.
Here's the bottom line on the nature of salvation during the Church Age. Ephesians 1:13-14 says,
"And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession — to the praise of his glory."Note the word "guaranteeing". Before we had the chance to do anything, good or bad, our destiny was sealed. We're saved by what we believe, not by how we behave.
John 6:39 says,
"And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day."Note the word "none".
John 10:27-30 says,
"My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one."Note the words "no one."
Romans 8: 38-39 says,
"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."Note the words "nor anything in all creation."
These passages all promise that we who are saved during the Church Age will never have to wonder about the security of our standing with the Lord. There are other verses that support this. These are simply some of the clearest.
What Happens Then?
According to 2 Thes. 2:7, the anti-Christ, AKA the man of lawlessness or son of perdition, can't be revealed to begin the Great Tribulation until the "restrainer" is taken out of the way, or literally out of the midst. Several identities have been proposed for this restrainer; the Roman State, the Jewish State, the principle of Law and Government, and others stemming largely from man's recognized need for certain behavioral standards in organized societies. But to many scholars the best case can be made for the view that it's really the Holy Spirit as contained in the Church who's restraining evil in the world.
"Take the restrainer and you have to take the container" as the popular saying goes. When the Church disappears, the restraining influence of the Holy Spirit is removed from the world and the anti-Christ will be revealed to do his worst. There's historical precedent for removing the Holy Spirit before a great judgment. You can interpret Genesis 6:3 to show that God removed His Spirit's influence from among men before the Great Flood as well. Interestingly, He removed Enoch, a fascinating type of the Church, before the Flood too, (Genesis 5: 24) but that's a different story.
The point here is that the promise of an indwelling Holy Spirit that guarantees our eternal destiny is uniquely given to the Church. No Old Testament believer enjoyed such a relationship. Even King David, a man after God's own heart, prayed that God would not take the Holy Spirit from him following his sin with Bathsheba. (Psalm 51:11) Old Testament believers were not promised that the Spirit of God would be sealed within them as a guarantee of their destiny. Nor can I find a single verse that makes such a promise to Tribulation believers. It seems that Eternal Security begins and ends with the Church.
Where Did You Get that Outfit?
What I do find for Tribulation believers are verses like this:
Behold, I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed. (Rev. 16:15)If you're familiar with the symbolic reference to clothing, you know what this verse means. If not, let's review it. Isaiah 61:10 says:
I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.Just as clothing provides physical covering, righteousness provides spiritual covering. God has clothed us in garments of salvation and a robe of righteousness.
Look at Zechariah 3:3-4. In Zechariah's vision, Joshua, the High Priest is standing before the angel of the Lord, obviously Jesus.
Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, "Take off his filthy clothes." Then he said to Joshua, "See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you."Removing his filthy clothes symbolized taking away his sin. Putting rich garments on him made him righteous.
Rev 19:8 tells us that the Bride was given garments of fine linen bright and clean to wear and that the fine linen stands for her righteousness. But again, the clothing isn't hers. It was given to her.
This symbolic use of clothing is the whole issue in the parable of the wedding banquet (Matt 22:1-14) The King (God) prepared a wedding banquet (Kingdom Age) for his son (Jesus) and sent his servants (prophets) to inform the invited guests (Israel) that all was ready. After first ignoring the invitation, they finally set upon the servants he sent and killed them.
Enraged, the King sent his armies and burned their city (Jerusalem). Then he sent his servants to find anyone they could and invite them to the banquet. The servants gathered up everybody they could find (gentiles) and the banquet was begun. When the King came in he noticed a man not dressed in wedding clothes. When the man had no excuse for his improper attire, he was thrown out into the darkness.
In the context of the parable the wedding clothes represent the righteousness with which God clothes us when we accept His invitation into His kingdom (2 Cor. 5:21) The guest trying to gain admittance wearing his own clothes (in his own righteousness) was found unworthy and excluded.
What's the Meaning of This?
From all this we can safely assume that the Lord isn't speaking of literal clothing in Rev. 16:15, but of the spiritual clothing that represents salvation and righteousness. Rather than having guaranteed salvation for Tribulation believers and assuming responsibility for their safety like a shepherd for his sheep, He warns them to stay awake and alert lest they be caught naked when He comes. It's a warning that maintaining their salvation is their responsibility and if they're not careful they could miss out. This warning is given on the threshold of the Bowl Judgments, the final and most devastating cycle of God's Wrath.
We get another clue of this in the verse I quoted at the beginning of this article.
Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. (Matt 24:12-13)As He listed the signs indicating that the End of the Age had come, the Lord alluded to the fact that Tribulation believers will have to stand firm to the end in order to insure their salvation.
The clearest indication of the Tribulation believer's exposure is found in the Parable of the 10 Virgins. (Matt. 25:1-13) The timing of this parable is identified as just following the 2nd Coming. (Time references from Matt. 24:29, 30, 36, & 25:1 make this clear.) The 10 virgins are all waiting for the Bridegroom (Jesus) to return. All 10 have both lamps and oil at the beginning. When oil is used symbolically it always refers to the Holy Spirit. The five who ran out of oil symbolize Tribulation believers who let their faith lapse by not remaining spiritually awake and alert. At the end they wake up, discover their peril, and rush about trying to renew their faith. While they're working to get back into a right relationship with Jesus, He returns and the door to salvation is closed to them. Forever.
How Many Brides Are There?
Some try to make this into a parable about the Church, always symbolized by a bride. There is a connection between virgin and bride due to the fact that in those days brides were nearly always virgins. But the Greek word simply means "someone who has never had sexual intercourse." And when used in connection with the Church the word is always singular, such as in 2 Cor 11:2.
"For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin."Throughout the parable, no bride is ever mentioned, and certainly could not be excluded by her husband from the wedding banquet, a meal, by the way, that follows the wedding ceremony. So the timing, the grammar, and the context all testify against interpreting this parable as a warning to the Church. The 10 virgins represent Tribulation survivors trying to gain entrance to the Messianic Kingdom, or Millennium. Some had maintained their faith and were welcomed in. Others had not and were refused admittance.
The parable ends with the warning,
"Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour." (Matt 25:13)This warning is given three times in the span of 23 verses, all dealing with the time of His coming. Tribulation believers must remain alert at all times and guard their position carefully. It will take a tremendous amount of faith to sustain oneself through this time, and each believer is responsible for keeping his or her own faith strong.
Some try to say that since the Lord warned them about the day and hour being unknown, He must be talking about the Rapture. After all, won't people be able to count off 1260 days from the Abomination of Desolation to the 2nd Coming? It turns out that it's not quite that easy. The Great Tribulation will last 1260 days, it's true, and immediately afterward the Sun will be darkened, the Moon not give its light, and stars will fall from the sky. (Matt. 24:29) This will be the signal that the Great Tribulation has ended.
Next the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky. The Greek word for sign means that a symbol or token will appear alerting people of a coming event. Sometime after the sign appears, people will see Him coming on the clouds. So there's a sequence of events that will take place, one following the other. But we're not told the duration of any one of them. Imagine the suspense that will create on Earth, knowing that the End has come but not knowing exactly when the Lord will actually return. By the signs, they'll know He's due, but they won't know the day or hour.
Personally, I think that the 10 virgins represent people on Earth who will awaken when they see the sign, and will know that the Bridegroom is coming. That's when some of them will realize that their faith has lapsed and will begin frantically trying to prepare themselves. But alas, He comes before they're ready and it's too late.
What's the Point?
It seems clear then, that salvation in the post church period will be a much more tenuous situation than the one we enjoy, devoid of any guarantees and requiring great personal responsibility in the face of devastating judgments and relentless persecution. Even though evidence of God's existence will abound in the judgments that regularly shake the Earth to its very foundations, maintaining one's faith during this time will be no small task. This realization adds great meaning to the Lord's promise to Church Age believers. "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."
The time is short. If you've been putting off making that final surrender of your will to His, better do it now. Believe me, you don't want to risk the alternative.